We Sell Books: ‘We concentrate on the people who like the smell and feel of a book’

Jackie FitzGerald in FitzGerald’s bookshop and café in Macroom, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

FitzGerald’s Bookshop in Macroom, Co Cork, is owned by Jackie FitzGerald. It sells books, toys, arts and crafts materials and also has a café.

How did you get into the books business?

I was a secondary school teacher. I taught in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, for over ten years. I was on a career break and I had started a master’s in UL but then the shop came up in Macroom.

The lady who had it [Mairéad McSweeney] was retiring and I had said to her to let me know if she ever was giving the shop up. So I had to decide between teaching and taking up the opportunity, which I did.

The shop was originally called the Macroom Bookshop, and I kept the original name for a year or two out of loyalty to Mairéad. She gave me a lot of help starting off.

How long are you in business?

We’re open ten years this year. I moved from the original premises in the square to here [Fitzgerald Street]. My father owns this premises, so there’s a music academy, a florist... we’re just one of the units. I’ve always traded from here.

Why did you want to give up teaching?

I just felt I was done with it. I sometimes think it’s a young person’s game and I didn’t have the enthusiasm I used to have. I didn’t think I could spend another 20 years doing the job.

I also have MS and that was deteriorating, and I felt any support I could muster would be through my family in Macroom. I built a purpose-built house in Macroom, so it was going to be an easier, better, more fulfilling life.

As a wheelchair-user, are you conscious of the importance of accessibility in retail outlets and elsewhere?

Yes, I’m very conscious of it — and for people with buggies, not just wheelchairs. You have to make a place accessible, but restaurants, say, with no wheelchair-accessible toilets really are a thing for me.

I know the legislation isn’t retrospective, but if you’re continuing to trade, you have to be required to come up to standard. The minimum is that someone should be able to go to the bathroom in a premises if they’ve had something to eat or drink.

It’s a human right, really. I don’t go to any shops or restaurants which don’t have wheelchair access, there wouldn’t be any point. I’ve been in a wheelchair about eight or nine years. I could walk when I opened the shop first. It seems forever, like you can’t remember the ‘walking you’, and a lot of my friends now can’t remember me walking.

What is your customer base like?

We rely on locals, and we have regular, loyal customers, but we also have people who’ve put us on their compass…. in the holidays we’ll have people saying ‘We’re coming from Dublin to Killarney and we stop here for a break, and on the way back’. We have a group who come from Wales every year to Killarney, they stop on a Friday going and on a Monday coming back.

How have you faced the challenges of online retailing?

When I opened the shop that was already prevalent, so it’s always been there. We just concentrate on the people who like the smell and feel of a book, who like having a book on the shelf when they’ve finished with it. We do a lot of customer orders, there are very few books we haven’t been able to track down.

Macroom is an area that is very rich in history, are books on that topic popular?

People are forever writing local history books, and people love them; if you put in photographs, even better. Books like The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine and The Atlas of the Irish Revolution, we couldn’t keep them in stock, they were so popular. They’re fantastic books.

What have you learned as a bookseller?

My dad has been in business forever — he’s an undertaker — so I was clued in to that side of things. I had never been an employer, though. With employing people there are all sorts of laws and rules and you have to be careful. That was a learning curve for me. And tax. There’s no tax on books, but there’s VAT on coffee. And different VAT on chocolate, on cakes, all of that.

Are you glad you became a bookseller?

I don’t regret it for a minute. For a teacher, people see the months off in the summer but it is a very tiring job. You go back to school after the summer and for the first two weeks you’re shattered. It can be very

rewarding as well, obviously, but I don’t regret leaving. I was done and it was time for something else. I meet such nice, interesting people here.

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